Nats earn edge in Beltway Series
Casto drives in go-ahead run in seventh; bullpen holds on late
WASHINGTON -- With their 4-2 victory over the Orioles at Nationals Park on Friday night, the Nationals improved their record to 32-49. The record is not what Washington expected at the halfway point of the season.
During Spring Training, Nats general manager Jim Bowden said the team would have a record over .500 in 2008. But injuries and a lack of hitting are the main reasons the club finds itself in fifth place in the National League East.
"As far as the results on the field, it has been a nightmare. Let's say it the way it is," Bowden said. "The injuries killed us. It is what it is."
Washington's play on the field was so inconsistent earlier this week that manager Manny Acta held a team meeting on Wednesday afternoon to urge his players to start playing better. The Nationals went on to win their next two games.
"We were going through a struggle there. We needed somebody to come up and say, 'You know guys, this is almost embarrassing,'" reliever Joel Hanrahan said. "We were not playing well at the time, we were doing little things wrong. He was not yelling at us, we had to pick it up.
"Ever since then, we won two games in a row. It was good he got into it with us. He said, 'You have to step up and play like Major Leaguers.'"
It was Kory Casto and Elijah Dukes who stepped up for the Nationals on Friday. The score was tied at 2 in the seventh inning, when the Nationals scored two runs off right-hander Daniel Cabrera.
With a runner on first, Casto, pinch-hitting for Hanrahan, roped a double near the left-field line. Outfielder Jay Payton tried to make a sliding stop on the play, but it went past him, allowing Willie Harris to score all the way from first base to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead.
It was a hit that Casto needed badly. He had just two hits in his past 30 at-bats before getting that double.
"I faced Cabrera in Spring Training a couple of times," Casto said. "He was working on his sinker tonight. He kind of stayed away from breaking balls. I was looking for something hard. I got something out and over the plate, and drove it to left."
After advancing to third on a wild pitch, Casto scored on a single by Dukes to make it a two-run game. It was Dukes' 15th RBI in his past 31 games.
"It was a big run, especially the way our bullpen has struggled of late," Acta said. "Dukes continues to play good baseball for us."
It looked like closer Jon Rauch, the only reliable reliever this season for Washington, was going to struggle in the ninth inning. He allowed a double and a walk to Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, respectively. However, Rauch induced Melvin Mora to hit into a double play and was able to get Kevin Millar to fly out to center fielder Lastings Milledge to end the game.
"It was the heart of the order," Acta said. "He's our closer and that's the guy we want to see against their best hitters. He got it done today."
Hanrahan ended up being the winning pitcher, while Cabrera took the loss.
Friday marked the return of left-hander Odalis Perez, who made his first appearance since June 3 against the Cardinals. In between starts, Perez was on the disabled list because of left shoulder tendinitis.
He lasted four innings and gave up no runs on three hits. Perez was on a pitch limit of 80 for the game. By the time he left the contest, he already had 75 pitches -- 42 of which were for strikes.
"He threw the ball well," Acta said. "He got good pop on his fastball. He was sitting on 90-91 mph. He was trying to be too fine earlier in the game and got into some deep counts, and that hurt him. He feels good. He's ready for the next one."
Perez acknowledged that he wanted to get the victory, but praised Acta for making the right decision to take him out of the game after four innings.
"Sometimes when you don't pitch for two weeks at this level, it's tough to throw a lot of strikes," Perez said. "The next time around, maybe I'll go five or six innings. I wanted to get my 'W,' but it was a great job by Manny."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.